Labor is tipped to hold onto the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro in NSW but neither side is claiming victory yet as counting continues in the tight contest.
ABC election analyst Antony Green called the win for Labor’s candidate Kristy McBain late Saturday after a flow of preference votes in the party’s favour.
While the ALP’s primary vote had dropped from the last election, it was performing better on preferences and postal votes which would be decisive in the close race, Mr Green said.
“Labor’s current lead of 1.2 per cent shouldn’t be wiped out on the votes outstanding,” he said early Sunday.
The contest between former Bega Valley mayor Kristy McBain and the Liberals’ Dr Fiona Kotvojs, a cattle and truffle farmer, is the first electoral test of Anthony Albanese’s popularity after he took over as federal Labor leader last year.
The byelection was triggered by the resignation of Labor MP and army veteran Mike Kelly due to ill health.
Labor’s primary vote dropped 3.85 points from the 2019 result in the seat to 36.17 per cent – although this was still higher than its national or NSW vote in the federal election.
Dr Kotvojs noted the Liberal primary vote – up 1.44 points – had defied a century-long trend of swings against government in byelections.
So Labor looks to have won the #EdenMonaro by-election. With 5,000 postals included, and with the preferences counts for the Queanbeyan pre-polls reported, Labor has 51.2% with only the Narooma and Jindabyne PPVCs plus remaining postals to come. #auspol https://t.co/eDMGb2Uezc
— Antony Green (@AntonyGreenABC) July 4, 2020
Coronavirus safety measures have slowed down counting which resumes Sunday morning and may stretch into next week.
With 77 per cent of the vote counted, Ms McBain had a narrow lead of 51.04 per cent on projected preference flows Dr Kotvojs is expected to take 48.96 per cent, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.
But the votes cast early in Jindabyne, Narooma, Queanbeyan City and four booths in Canberra are yet to be counted, as are more than 16,800 postal votes.
The complication clouding confident predictions of the result was the more than 40,000 early voters, some 38 per cent of the southeastern NSW electorate’s voters.
Mr Albanese said Ms McBain was 2500 votes ahead of her opponent and he would much rather be her than one of her competitors.
Addressing her supporters late on Saturday, Ms McBain told her base it was OK the results were still too close to call.
“We said we wanted to make sure that we shone a spotlight on people in Eden-Monaro that were doing it really tough, and I think this election campaign we have definitely done that,” she said.
Both candidates vowed to continue fighting for the people in the southeast NSW seat that has been battered by drought, summer’s bushfires and the coronavirus recession, no matter the election outcome.
“We have still got, in our community, a tough couple of years coming ahead,” Dr Kotvojs said.
“A government that gives leadership, a government that gives direction, a government that sets a base that supports people is what we need.”
Greens lose ground
The Greens’ primary vote has also dropped, by 3.57 points.
But Labor appears to be picking up good preference flows from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party and the Help End Marijuana Prohibition party.
Labor sources said the trend in pre-poll preferences appeared to be broadly in line with what was seen among Saturday’s votes.
But Liberal frontbencher Angus Taylor cited his party’s scrutineers and noted that results from Yass and Merimbula pre-polls were more favourable to Dr Kotvojs.
“This is a repudiation of the left-wing politics that (Labor leader Anthony) Albanese and the Greens stand for,” he said.
“When you look at the booths, it’s those tradie-type booths, whether it’s in Queanbeyan or Cooma … that’s where we’ve done the best.”
Senator Ayres continued to cast Labor as the underdog.
“It would be an extraordinary upset victory for the Labor Party at this time in this seat to claw back a victory for the Labor party in Eden-Monaro,” he said.
It's clear that the result is too close to call tonight.
But that's okay.
In this election we said we would stand up for people.
And in this campaign we have definitely done that.
So thank you.
I'll keep you updated over the coming days. pic.twitter.com/whrMyn7iJt
— Kristy McBain (@KristyMcBain) July 4, 2020
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who initially considered running in the by-election for the Nationals, said there hadn’t been a sense of anger from voters heading to the booths on polling day.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks conceded about 9pm, with his party steady on 6.7 per cent of the vote.
“I wish I could go a bit further, but obviously it was always a hard task with COVID restrictions and, you know, in such a short time that we’ve had,” he told supporters.
“But I think we’ve made an impact for the farmers of this region.”
-with AAP and ABC